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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Terrorism:Paris and San Bernardino - What I realized

In the days after the Paris attacks I was distracted and had a hard time focusing. At times, I felt sick. I wanted to know the latest updates and had to intermittently unplug from following the news at all.

What happened and what was happening to me?

First, let me state unequivocally that I denounce terrorism. 
Second, I feel that is a pretty severe lack of imagination and empathy that our leaders, pundits, and media can act so totally clueless about terrorism.

Terrorism and guerilla warfare are very close relatives. It does not take much scratching beneath the surface of world events to start uncovering some understandable (mind you not acceptable in my eyes) motives and rationales for these acts.  Asymmetrical warfare has long been the hallmark of groups who are facing a threat that  can not be defeated in any realistic scenario of war in the Geneva Convention mold. 

The United States has employed asymmetrical warfare as a part of our foreign policy which fell short of declared wars. Even in our civil war raiders and guerrillas existed. (Read the wikipedia article here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guerrilla_warfare_in_the_American_Civil_War  ). 
Our support of the mujahadeen against the Soviet Union is but one recent example (which brought us Osama Bin Laden). It is really a mystery to me that the same intelligence operators who worked with and trained these asymmetrical experts can be so willfully blind about their causes and the situations which give them rise and drive them to act. Our globe has no shortage of experience with this.  Iraq, Ireland, and Palestine are just a few locations where asymmetrical warfare was or is de rigueur.

So, what conditions create the environment for it and what nudges it into action.
First, there must be a situation where injustices against the group you belong to are apparent. 
Second, there must be an enemy which appears too powerful in the normal arena of war. This can be due to technology, numbers, or due to the preponderance of international backing of one's enemy.
Third, there must be a inability or lack on the part of official political powers to stop the attacks, protect or bring justice.
Penultimately, there must be a definitive erosion of the personal social contract which prohibits killing.
Finally, there must be a trigger to act.

You will notice that poverty is not a part of the narrative I see here. There has been some research supporting the idea that it is not poverty that leads to terrorism. (Here is an article about this from the Wall street Journal of all places- http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB110911119848561282)

The confluence of ruling powers in the middle east and around the world who are not overly concerned with justice, along with the West lending technological and political legitimacy to many of them and their oppressive violence could provide a fairly compelling fulfillment of criteria one through three. Even allies such as Pakistan have had a difficult time sustaining their cooperation with us in the face of the killing of innocents and collateral damage from our violence along with everyone's seeming inability to act justly or protect civil society. In pursuing our goals, we claim these casualties are acceptable. Is it a surprise that others will ask us how the collateral damage among their population is different from the collateral damage in Paris or California?


But what about the last two criteria? What could fulfill them?  A sense of the rules of civilization being ignored at one's expense. The loss of a loved one. The killing of innocents. The continued threats and attacks against those you consider to be co-religionaries or fellow citizens. These surely are among the ingredients that can destroy the social contract that underlies the preservation of life. Finally, what might be the trigger? A personal invitation be a leader. An attack like that of the French government on ISIS. A final loss of hope, that the powers that be will begin to act more justly in their eyes. In the internet age, one's neighbors need not be physically close and atrocities experienced in distant locations can have profound affects on sympathetic figures around the globe.

Let us not imagine that Syria and Afghanistan are the equivalent of  Nebraska with Imams preaching Islam rather than Christianity. Bashar Al-Assad is certainly not Pete Ricketts.
Living in a war zone is a hell that only the small percentage of soldiers and refugees can begin to understand. I will not pretend to be an expert on the subject. And a modern war in your own country among your family and friends must be of a hellish intensity of an even greater degree. Those immediately affected by 9/11 can understand this. These experiences likely heighten human sensitivity and speed progression through these steps and creating hearts, minds, and souls that find themselves driven rapidly through this progression toward extremism.


I found it hard to consider the violence that I saw and read about during the attacks. I also found it difficult and upsetting to see the hatred, prejudice with which we responded to the attacks.  It was our response that actually kept me awake at night. This hatred and knee jerk response to start trying to kill whoever we could find knotted my intestines and burrowed into my mind. It is the response one would rightly expect from the henchmen of a garden variety dictator not the United States of America and the French Republic. The increasing volume of the drums of war just echoed in my mind ...throbbing....Don't we have a better response than this. 

I still have to avoid some topics on social media. As someone who knows refugees who have fled war I can't read screeds about stopping refugees. As someone, who has spoken with families who have experienced the time and effort taken for immigration security checks I can't read about religious tests for immigrants. The hate, scapegoating, and fear-mongering give me headaches - like lingering paint fumes that burn when I breathe.  Seeing that the purveyors of these thoughts believe they are offering solutions makes me sad and pains my heart. I have to monitor my exposure to them. The solutions to terrorism is not nearly simple enough to be solved by bombs and more security.

As a human race, don't we have a better response than this.

Next: Can we discuss: "What do politicians mean when they say US national security interest?" and "What should our foreign policy goals be?"




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